Cellular dynamics visualized in live cells in vitro and in vivo by differential dual-color nuclear-cytoplasmic fluorescent-protein expression

Cancer Res. 2004 Jun 15;64(12):4251-6. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-04-0643.


We report here the genetic engineering of dual-color fluorescent cells with one color in the nucleus and the other in the cytoplasm that enables real-time nuclear-cytoplasmic dynamics to be visualized in living cells in vivo as well as in vitro. To obtain the dual-color cells, red fluorescent protein (RFP) was expressed in the cytoplasm of HT-1080 human fibrosarcoma cells, and green fluorescent protein (GFP) linked to histone H2B was expressed in the nucleus. Nuclear GFP expression enabled visualization of nuclear dynamics, whereas simultaneous cytoplasmic RFP expression enabled visualization of nuclear cytoplasmic ratios as well as simultaneous cell and nuclear shape changes. Thus, total cellular dynamics can be visualized in the living dual-color cells in real time. The parental HT-1080 and the derived dual-color clones had similar cell proliferation rates, suggesting that expression of GFP and/or RFP does not affect cell cycle progression. The cell cycle position of individual living cells was readily visualized by the nuclear-cytoplasmic ratio and nuclear morphology. Real-time induction of apoptosis was observed by nuclear size changes and progressive nuclear fragmentation. Mitotic cells were visualized by whole-body imaging after injection in the mouse ear. Common carotid artery injection of dual-color cells and a reversible skin flap enabled the external visualization of the dual-color cells in microvessels in the mouse brain where extreme elongation of the cell body as well as the nucleus occurred. Dual-color cells in various positions of the cell cycle were visualized in excised mouse lungs after tail-vein injection of the dual-color cells. In the lung, the dual-color cells were observed frequently juxtaposing their nuclei, suggesting a potential novel form of cell-cell communication. The dual-color cells thus are a useful tool for visualizing living-cell dynamics in vivo as well as in vitro. Drugs that could specifically perturb these processes can now be readily screened in real time in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism*
  • Fibrosarcoma / genetics
  • Fibrosarcoma / metabolism*
  • Fibrosarcoma / pathology
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Histones / biosynthesis
  • Histones / genetics
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Luminescent Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Mitosis / physiology
  • Red Fluorescent Protein
  • Retroviridae / genetics
  • Transduction, Genetic


  • Histones
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins